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By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-09-28 Print this article Print

As Tom Liston pointed out in an open letter to Microsoft, the companys scanning tool for vulnerable programs takes a very narrow view of the problem. It doesnt look generically for the problem. I myself found a better scanning tool; I call it "DIR C:\GDIPLUS.DLL /S." It finds all copies of GDIPLUS.DLL on the system and displays their dates.

The file date isnt a guarantee that a file is or isnt vulnerable, and I dont know if you can just copy new, fixed versions to the locations of the vulnerable ones.

Unlike with a browser or e-mail client, most third-party GDIPLUS programs dont work with arbitrary images from arbitrary sources (this is my guess, but I feel good about it). So how do you get the exploit to the images that third-party applications use?

The answer is expensive in terms of network and CPU time, but whats a worm to do other than propagate itself? The worm needs to search out on the computer on which its running and the network to which it is attached for JPEG files and modify them to include the exploit. This would require the user of the exploited computer to have write privileges to these files, and it would probably leave an audit trail of the modification, but who cares? Its the user of the computer, not the author of the worm, who gets in trouble.

For insights on security coverage around the Web, check out Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog. This nightmare worm could end up making the JPEG format unusable in the short term, but in as long as it would take to replace it the patch could be widely deployed. Its a no-win situation.

Moral of the story: Patch early and often. Get around to the Microsoft and third-party programs when you can, but more importantly get the operating system patched.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center at for security news, views and analysis.
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Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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